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GHENT 2021

Review: Animals

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- Nabil Ben Yadir delivers a radical film gesture which scrutinises the final hours of a young man who’s the victim of a brutal homophobic crime, and the hours which follow his death

Review: Animals
Soufiane Chilah in Animals

It’s a night straight out of hell. Brahim is thirty years old. He’s good looking, intelligent and affectionate, and he’s attentive towards his mother and his father. His mother is celebrating her birthday with great pomp, surrounded by friends, family and neighbours, but Brahim seems distracted. He’s waiting for a friend. Introductions stress him out, and the sidelong glances cast by those who are in the know don’t help to lower his tension levels. When Brahim realises that tonight won’t be the night when he finally tells the people he loves that he likes who he is, he flees towards his tragic fate, which throws him in the path of four guys in a car. Pressure rises quickly behind the wheel. The impossibility of effective communication between Brahim and these four men rapidly escalates into verbal and then physical abuse. At their hands, the night takes an horrific and eventually deadly turn for Brahim. Until the following day, when the sun rises once again.

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Inspired by a true story which had a powerful impact on the public - the murder of Ihsane Jarfi, which, legally speaking, was considered to be the first homophobic murder in Belgium - Animals [+see also:
interview: Nabil Ben Yadir
film profile
]
, presented in a world premiere at the 48th Film Fest Gent, takes the viewer on a journey through hell. By way of his fourth feature film, Nabil Ben Yadir is making a radical film gesture, refusing to skirt around violence and insisting on facing up to it, an insistence which he extends to the audience. 

The story is powerfully constructed in three stages. The first is a lively undertaking, which helps us get to know Brahim and which lends life, body and soul to the victim. Wonderfully played by Soufiane Chilah, we follow this young man very closely. The director works with a 4/3 format consisting of long sequence shots which wholly immerse us in Brahim’s life. We discover his strengths and his weaknesses, we see the love that surrounds him, the doubts which assail him. We meet a young man, subjected to interrogations which could be our own, those of our brothers or of our friends. The format suddenly changes when the killing begins. The outcome will inevitably be fatal, everybody knows it, both the audience and the murderers. What floors us isn’t so much the violence, but the indifference; it’s not the many blows but the sniggering, the dehumanising laughter, which heralds the birth of monsters.

Indeed, it’s also this which is examined in Animals: the creation of monsters. And what comes next. In a staggering third movement, creating a mirror effect, the film asks whether there can be life after this crime, or rather, how can there be life after such a crime? The film raises many questions, but notably this one: how do you describe violence in a film? It’s difficult to say without running the risk of weakening the power created by the director’s chosen mise en scène. But the latter, a radical filmmaker, stirs up repulsion as much as he does reflection, confronting the viewer with an especially disturbing and unfiltered brand of violence.

Buoyed by an impactful narrative arc, Animals questions us over the ravages caused by toxic masculinity, and the difficulty of living in a group when you don’t have many words to express yourself and when you’ve grown up on lands marked by family and social violence. As viewers, we’re also on the receiving end of the full-blown nihilism of a society which is plagued by violence, a brand of violence which is all the more irrepressible for often being portrayed in spectacular fashion. In such a context, it’s difficult to work out which limits are ours, which are the filmmaker’s, and which are the actors’. Mostly non-professional actors who breathe a nigh-on palpable realism into the film, which is reinforced by the real-time effect brought about by sequence shots. Animals is a shock which won’t leave anyone indifferent: it will put some of us off, it will upset others and it will knock viewers sideways to begin with, before returning to audience’s consciences and reviving reflection.

Animals is produced by 1080 Films in co-production with Belgium’s Les Films du Fleuve and A Team Production, alongside France’s Maje Productions. Sold worldwide by Wild Bunch, the movie will be released in Belgium in February, courtesy of Cinéart.

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(Translated from French)

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